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Here's a typical small-cheap charcoal grill ...

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These are only about 20 dollars (the "Weber" branded items are popular).

Regarding the lower wire grate that holds the coals.

Is there a way to set the grate to a higher or lower position?

(Many big expensive charcoal grills have such a feature -- either a crank, or, just dogs on which you can manually move the grate up and down.)

Am I missing something obvious, or is there a "usual way" to do this??

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The issue of raising or lowering the fire is effectively a question about how to raise or lower the amount of heat that's getting to the food.

For the type of grill that you've mentioned, the typical procedure is to put the coals on one side of the grill -- either in a pile, or as a sort of crescent shape along the edge of the grill.

If you want to cook over a cooler fire, you move the food further away from the coals. If you want to cook with a hotter fire, you move them directly on top of the coals (which can also cause flare-ups, leading to even faster cooking).

You can also put the lid on the grill and change the temperature by opening or closing the little vents on the top & bottom of the grill, which will control how much oxygen is available to feed the fire ... but I've never really gotten the hang of that one, myself.

  • And of course, if you want rip-roaring heat across the entire surface of the grill, then you need extra coals. Which takes more fuel, so my guess is that the adjustable rack is a gimmicky means of increasing efficiency. – logophobe Sep 3 '15 at 20:57
  • @logophobe : actually, charcoal elevators are great. As the coals die down, you can crank the coals higher so you can still keep the heat relatively high. Unfortunately, our rec. center has decided we're not allowed to use those grills any more when we cook for the ~150 people for our departmental picnic ... I ended up bringing propane griddles this year (which was a PITA ... and they've been sitting in the back of my truck since the picnic last week). – Joe Sep 3 '15 at 21:13
  • Hi Joe! the one-side trick sounds great. however, if the coals are closer to the meat, there is tremendoulsy more heat. (Indeed, this would apply whether you are using "colas everywhere" or "coals on one side only, to allow variation".) – Fattie Sep 3 '15 at 21:29
  • Hi Logo. Say you have 70 coals. If you have the coals further from the meat, that makes less heat, if you have them closer to the meat, that makes more heat. Say you now have 150 coals. Again: if you have the coals further from the meat, that makes less heat, if you have them closer to the meat, that makes more heat. – Fattie Sep 3 '15 at 21:30
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    @JoeBlow : looks like briquettes to me. Briquettes look like little pillow-like things, all of the same size. Lump could look like anything, but it's quite irregular pieces (they don't all look alike) – Joe Sep 4 '15 at 2:18
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No - there's no easy way to do this in a small kettle BBQ. Better to do as @Joe says and arrange the coals to provide differential heating in different areas.

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